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Priced out of the market, he's betting on the future

January 29, 2008|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — While his Republican rivals fought hard in the week before today's primary, Mike Huckabee was forced to largely forgo this expensive battlefield.

After his loss to Sen. John McCain in the South Carolina GOP primary Jan. 19, Huckabee arrived in Florida short of cash and having little luck finding more.

He decided to conserve money by traveling less and advertising only on cable TV, limiting his visibility in the state.

Campaigning Sunday night in Pensacola, the former Arkansas governor had some regrets.

"The Panhandle is historically a very conservative part of Florida, and that would be an ideal constituency for us," he said. "I wish we could spend more time here."

In speeches at sporadic Florida rallies, Huckabee focused his attention on the economy.

At a rally in Jacksonville early Sunday, he focused on his support for the "fair tax," a proposal to replace federal income taxes with a 23% national sales tax.

"It's fair. It's flat. It's finite, and it's family friendly," he told a crowd of about 300.

At a rally in Fort Lauderdale last week, he said, "It's time to tell the IRS, 'You're not going to get us -- we're going to get you.' "

Huckabee's smile widened and dimples deepened in anticipation of his punch line: "I want to be the president who nails a sign on the door of the IRS, saying, 'Going out of business.' "

The message, which became the focus of his limited ad campaign, was a crowd pleaser.

Huckabee tried to spin his campaign's financial disadvantage into political advantage, warning his Fort Lauderdale audience that the presidency could end up being sold to the highest bidder.

"I've got a better idea: that we -- the people -- take the presidency back," he said. "Our vote is not for sale."

His advisors downplayed expectations for today's vote, saying, "A close fourth [place] will be fine."

The campaign was already focused on states beyond Florida: Huckabee's home state, Arkansas, and Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia represent more than 25% of the delegates needed for the Republican nomination.

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